Amy Poehler, the TIME 100 Gala, & our National Care Crisis
I’ve always laughed at whatever comes out of comedian Amy Poehler’s mouth, but when I read her speech at last week’s Timemagazine gala dinner, I cried.
Named by Time as one of this year’s 100 “most influential people,” the Parks and Recreation star cracked plenty of jokes—“I haveso much influence; I’m lousy with influence”—but when it came time for her to acknowledge the award and say her thank yous, she made serious use of her spotlight, choosing to turn it in the direction of the nannies who have made her thriving career possible:
I have thought very hard and long about what has influenced me over the past couple of years, and since I have been at this dinner in 2008, I have given birth to two boys and I’ve left Saturday Night Live and I started my own TV show, and it’s been a crazy couple of years, and I thought who besides Madam Secretary Clinton and Lorne Michaels have influenced me? And it was the women who helped me take care of my children. It is Jackie Johnson from Trinidad and it is Dawa Chodon from Tibet, who come to my house and help me raise my children.
As a mom who went back to part-time work only with the help of Debbie Douglass from Jamaica, I understood the depth of Amy Poehler’s appreciation. I cried remembering my son’s first years, when Debbie taught me how to take care of his cut lip without panicking; when she tried to show me how to diaper him on my lap (never really mastered it); when he was giggling with her on the couch when I walked in the door.
I also remember how confused I was about how to be a good domestic employer. I’d felt overwhelmed by my new role, unsure about wages and benefits. I knew how to communicate with Debbie about my kid, but I wasn’t sure how to talk with her about her job. I tapped into playground and listserv chatter about nannies, but felt just as isolated and even more frustrated, discovering that while so many of the families in my community of Park Slope, Brooklyn were employers of nannies, there was virtually no guidance for domestic employers or standards for domestic workers.
I decided to join a grassroots coalition of domestic workers and supporters hoping to bring this workforce out of the shadows.Domestic Workers United and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice brought together workers, employers, and sometimes everyone’s kids to lobby our lawmakers. My son, nearly ten now, joined me at a “children’s vigil” to pressure the New York state legislature to pass the “Domestic Workers Bill of Rights”—a landmark law that passed last year, making New York the first state in the nation to set minimum labor standards for domestic workers, who were left behind by federal labor law.
This past year, I joined the steering committee of Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employers Association, a new national organization founded to make sure that other domestic employers have more guidance, information, and support than I did. Hand in Hand is currently working in coalition with the National Domestic Workers Alliance to pass the next “bill of rights” in California. Hand in Hand aims to help build a national movement to recognize the enormous number of families in our country in need of quality home-based care for their loved ones and to honor the caregivers who do that sacred work.
Our movement needs more Amy Poehlers, celebrity mothers and other public figures who recognize our national care crisis and the reach of their words. (On Tumblr, there are 15-year olds who rave about Poehler and Tina Fey-- they all want Poehler and Fey to betheir mothers!) I’m so grateful that Amy Poehler used her “influence” last week on behalf of working women—in homes and offices—everywhere:
For you working women who are out there tonight who get to do what you get to do because there are wonderful people who help you at home, I would like to take a moment to thank those people, some of whom are watching your children right now, while you’re at this event. Those are people who love your children as much as you do, and who inspire them and influence them. So on behalf of every sister and mother and person who stands in your kitchen and helps you love your child, I say thank you and I celebrate you tonight.
If you want to support the California campaign, you can join the effort here!